FOREWORD: So we thought we were done with the MJS series, but I apparently haven’t gotten this out of my system.
‘Aftermath’ takes place several months after Miho and Goto are married and have moved into their own home. Those who don’t remember various revelations from their wedding fic, Jazz is visibly pregnant now, and her marriage to Kuni is public knowledge.
A knock at the door.
Knocks on the door are usually fairly innocuous.
And this one was punctuated by the excited barks of two puppy greyhounds named Kaga and Ishigami.
“Oh, come on you guys,” Miho complained, following the excited loping bounce of her dogs, “there is no need to bark at absolutely everything that approaches the house.”
Apparently, the puppies disagreed, and continued to bark as if a world full of murderers were congregated on the other side of the door.
“For fuck’s sake Kaga,” she huffed, dancing to dodge the poochies underfoot, “get out of the way!”
But the joviality in her voice, the laughter, drained away when she looked at the AV intercom Goto had insisted they install.
There stood an ominous entourage of Public Safety captains and lieutenants.
“Sit,” Miho barked, and in a scurry, both puppies scampered back and planted their bums on the floorboards.
The latch came free, then the deadbolt, before Miho pulled open the heavy, solid wood door to peer at the conspicuous gathering through the security door – and each of them wore a solemn expression no grate or barrier could protect her from.
“Captains,” she said, also focus on keeping her mind from jumping to catastrophic conclusions, “Lieutenants, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Mrs. Goto,” Ishigami nodded evenly, but she knew him well enough to interpret the way he fidgeted with his glasses as a bad sign. “Would it be too much trouble to come inside?”
Silently she gave a nod, but the puppies at her back began barking the moment she unlocked the security door, and growled at the sight of Kaga.
“Kaga that’s enough,” Miho snapped sharply, and Kaga – the man not the dog – blinked and straightened.
“Daaw, look how they’ve grown!” Kurosawa gushed, dropping to his knees the moment there was room, and both puppies tackled him happily.
“Kaga stop humping his knee,” Miho sighed, avoiding the human Kaga’s gaze, knowing it was growing increasingly irritated. “Ahh, this way gentlemen.”
No more was said between then and the lounge room; not even their footfalls against the floorboards made sound, and yet Miho could already hear every word they had come to say.
She had spent her career in matchmaking reading people, after all, and their strides, the way their eyes stared straight ahead and the tight set of their jaws spoke volumes in their silence. She had not known them to visit as a group before, Kaga and Shinonome hadn’t even set foot in the Goto residence alone, and the Master of the house’s conspicuous absence from the congregation was absolutely the reason they were there.
“I’ll put some coffee on,” Miho declared when the men all stood uncomfortably in the bright, airy space, the puppies frolicking between them.
“Don’t,” Kaga dropped, catching her wrist as she stepped toward the kitchen.
Foreseeing their purpose, Miho did not react as she might once have; there was no scathing warning, no brazen physical response, just the slight downward tilt of her head and the shift of her body toward the still unoccupied couch.
“Please, sit,” she offered, and all but Captain Ishigami found a place to sit.
He, crouched down in front of Miho and reached for her hands in an uncharacteristic physical gesture, cool, slender fingers wrapping lightly around hers.
“As you know, Lieutenant Goto has been undercover for several months,” he said slowly, clearly choosing his words carefully. “And while he has not been able to contact you, communication with Public Safety was consistent in line with mission operational parameters.”
“Was,” Miho repeated, plucking the crucial word from his sentence and lighting it up in the space between them.
Puppy-Kaga and Puppy-Ishigami’s sleek bodies leapt up onto the couch, and sensing the gathering storm about to lash their mother, they curled up either side of her.
“There was a critical incident last night,” Ishigami went on, his shoulder twitch suggesting he’d like to adjust his glasses again, but he maintained contact with her palms. “A gunfight erupted and…”
Puppy-Kaga interrupted with a whining yawn before turning his head to rest into Miho’s lap, and this was all Kurosawa could take, covering his mouth to stifle a sob.
“Is he dead?” Miho asked, so, so quiet though her voice did not tremble – that is the truth she’d known the moment she had opened to the door to find them all standing there.
Even Ishigami seemed to be struggling with the maintenance of his usually perfect, stoic façade, a frown driving a deep arrow between his brows.
“We recovered digital footage from the scene,” he expounded without directly answering her question, “and,” he added after taking a slow, deep breath, “found the burned remains of the gang he had infiltrated early this morning. We’ve confirmed Goto – Seiji – was among them.”
The closing flutter of Miho’s eyes saved her from the struggle in Ishigami’s expression, but threatened her with the horrific blanks her mind filled in, not that her imagination could possibly conjure up a nightmare greater than what had already been delivered.
“I see,” she whispered, a sound from somewhere deep within her throat. “Thank you,” she went on as she looked up and around at her husband’s closest colleagues, “thank you all for coming to tell me personally, I appreciate it, and I know Seiji would too.”
“What?” Kurosawa coughed, pausing in his own anguish to blink at her in surprise. “Thank you? That’s all?”
“Toru,” Soma hissed sharply.
“But!” he insisted, seeming both confused and a little outraged by Miho’s calm.
“It’s okay,” Miho smiled sadly. “I understand you were all very close to him.”
“You’re his wife,” Kurosawa wept, even as Shinonome took his arm and gave him a tug toward the door.
“Rest assured, Mrs. Goto, this won’t go unpunished,” Kaga assured her, his teeth clenched fiercely.
“I believe you, Captain,” Miho nodded, sliding Puppy-Kaga away and standing slowly, forcing Ishigami to his feet also. “Seiji has every trust in you both.”
There was no quibble over her misused verb tense, just the awkwardness of men of action trapped in a situation where heroism couldn’t be rushing in with guns blazing.
The only hero among them now, it seemed, was dead.
“Thank you again for coming,” Miho expressed gently, her glance past them to the corridor leading to the front door a clear signal they did not miss.
Reluctantly, however, Ishigami stepped back, disquieted by her lack of reaction in his own way.
“Is there someone we can call for you?” he offered, forced to follow her down the hall, Kaga and Soma in tow. “Miss Mann perhaps? Miss Genever?”
“No, thank you,” Miho replied politely, opening the door to reveal Kurosawa sitting on the porch with Shinonome hovering over him. “I know you’re all very busy, and your investigation is not over.”
Getting to his feet, it looked as if Kurosawa had something more to say, but he sucked it back into his chest and turned down the path.
“You’ll let me know when you’ve learned more?” she then enquired, and both Ishigami and Kaga nodded soberly.
“Straight away,” Kaga assured her, “and… if you should need anything, just call, any of us.”
At his atypical kindness, Miho smiled mildly.
“Of course, Captain. I will.”
Her nod was a clear dismissal, and yet the four remaining officers all felt reluctant now to leave, even though they’d dreaded the duty that had awaited them in their colleague’s home. But eventually they bid their solemn farewell, having been there no more than twenty minutes, and with a quiet click, Miho let the door close shut and placed her back against it.
The burn began in her eyes then flushed her cheeks with a fire no amount of tears could quell; but they were trapped in her chest, along with the last breath she’d taken as the door closed. Though she had known there was a possibility her husband might not come back from an operation, the reality of it being delivered to her by the men he trusted most, was somehow beyond her comprehension.
It didn’t make sense.
It couldn’t be real.
He would call and explain it was all some mix up.
When the dizziness became too much, her body forced her to inhale – lungs full of fire she released in a choking, guttural, sobbing gasp, that shattered the strength of her legs. Sliding down, a ragdoll curling against the floorboards, Miho was allowed only mere seconds before Ishigami and Kaga began poking her with their slender muzzles and licking at her cheeks.
Despite having declined Ishigami’s offer, Jazz simply let herself into the Goto residence with her keys, and hunted down where Miho was curled up in the shower recess.
The water was running cold over her best friend’s naked body, but she didn’t seem to notice her intense shaking, or the deep imprints her nails had made where she was clutching legs.
Wordlessly, Miho followed Jazz’s directions, allowing the other woman to dry her, before numbly stepping into her pyjamas.
“I don’t suppose you feel like eating,” Jazz sighed, folding the doona up to Miho’s chin.
“We were going to have duck,” Miho murmured, one hand on Ishigami’s head, the other on Kaga’s as they laid either side of her.
“We?” Jazz frowned, and Miho nodded slightly.
“Me and the kids,” she snorted, but it was a mirthless sound.
“The dogs get duck?” Jazz blinked, looking between the two most spoilt dogs ever.
Miho’s eyes closed and bit her lower lip, and in response the two sleek puppies nuzzled against her.
“Aww, Honey,” Jazz exhaled, her heart breaking and surely as if Kuni had died. “I know there is nothing I can say to make this okay,” she went on softly, stroking Miho’s hair gently, “so I’ll just be here, for whatever you need for as long as you need it.”
“You know, I told him I had a bad feeling about this mission,” Miho whispered, lifting her lids and rolling her eyes to the ceiling, “but I would never ask him not to go, because he’s never given me a reason to doubt his promises that he’ll always come home.”
Patiently, Jazz listened, while Ishigami began licking Miho’s fingertips.
“So,” Miho inhaled slowly, and then breathed out the rest of her sentence, “I don’t know why I’m being so pathetic… if he promised… he promised… so he will come back.”
And another piece of Jazz’s heart broke off.
If Ishigami and the others were sure enough about Goto’s fate they actually came to tell Miho about it in person, then Jazz had to think they were certain. Miho’s denial was not surprising, just one of many terrible steps on the road of grief she would have to travel – and not for the first time. Perhaps, Jazz wondered, Daisetsu’s faked death helped allow Miho to imagine this was all some elaborate ruse for some other purpose.
When Miho sat up, it was almost as if in clairvoyance, for the very next second both dogs’ ear pricked up and they leapt from the bed before galloping for the front door.
Then there was urgent knocking.
Jazz actually had to jump back a little as hope glimmered in Miho’s eyes and she threw back the blankets. Her bare feet slapped loudly against the floorboards as she ran, and she made no attempts to hold back her puppies before wrenching open the door.